On Learning Differences

Vol. 2, No. 1 - Information on Learning Differences Online Winter 2003


Happy Holidays and New Information

Facing Learning Disabilities in The Adult Years

Teaching Mathematics to Students With Learning Disabilities

Use Of Color In Handwriting and Notetaking for a Student With a Learning Difference

From Failure to Success in College

In Memorium - Ada Belton

Conference Information

Book Reviews


About the Editor

Sharing Ideas

Permission to Copy from Visions on Learning Differences

Please see other issues


Hilda Coyne, Editor


Best wishes for a great year ahead. Many helpful suggestions followed the last issue. As a result, the next issue will offer a new category for those seeking employees or employment opportunities to post their listings Please continue to share your valuable ideas.

This issue presents articles on accommodations, by-pass strategies and remediation, including seminal research, for instance, on the use of color in handwriting. The article on teaching math to students with learning differences also incorporates color and innovative methods for organizing math instruction.

If you missed the last issue, please click on the link "Please see other issues to read the many wonderful articles, including those by Dr. Susan Vogel, an editor of the Journal of Learning Disabilities and the Annals of Dyslexia, and on facilitation for students with learning differences, by Dr. Barbara Guyer on the gifted and different learners. Please also see the articles on legislative concerns, and much more.

Thank you for all of your kind compliments and suggestions. I will present a session entitled "Applying Brain Research Findings to the Remedial Treatment of Reading, Writing and Math" at the NADE conference in Austin, Texas, on February 13th. I look forward to seeing you there and thanking you personally.


  by Joan Shapiro, Ed.D. and Rebecca Rich, Ed.D.

In our recently published book, Facing Learning Disabilities in the Adult Years, we address the range of problems of adults who have learning disabilities. Why the interest? Between five and eleven million individuals or 10% of the adult population in this country, struggles with learning disabilities. School dropout rates exceed 40 percent in contrast to 25-30 percent in the general population.

A learning disability is a lifelong condition. Some adults have learned to compensate for their difficulties by the time they have completed their formal education. For many others, however, problems continue and impact to varying degrees, on careers, social relationships, and activities of daily living. There are adults who were diagnosed as children and received support services, but others had difficulty throughout school, never knew why and, as adults, are seeking answers and help. The field of learning disabilities, once almost exclusively involved in the education of children and adolescents, is now concerned with the needs of adults as well.

Adults are not merely children with learning disabilities grown up. The impact of the disability differs at each stage of development. Some of the problems learning soften with age. These changes are due to the development of skills and the ability to employ compensatory strategies. For example, phonological and decoding skills improve in many, and reading strategies and increased background knowledge strengthen comprehension. It is also reported that in approximately one-third of the cases, the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder lessen with age.

Psychosocial problems are evident in adulthood and often center on issues of self-esteem, passivity and motivation. Some of the research suggests that the symptoms of dependency and passivity are the result of negative experiences, such as repeated failure and frustration as well as the belief that success is not within personal control. While strategy use becomes more integrated into daily life, executive function often remains ineffective and is not called into action. The changing demands of adulthood significantly alter an individual's needs and perspective. For many adults, there is difficulty completing school and finding satisfying employment options. Others are able to find employment and career opportunities in which they succeed and bypass some of the learning problems.

There has been an increased response to the growing number of adults who have a learning disability. There are legal mandates such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and programs in colleges, in communities and in the workplace designed to address the needs of this population. More and more colleges and universities are providing support for the steady increase in enrollment of students with learning disabilities. The degree and nature of service varies greatly from campus to campus.

Supports are often needed as well for adults to be successful in the workplace. Employers typically want their workers, whether or not they have a learning disability, to be proficient in reading, writing and mathematical skills; and be able to apply these skills to solve problems. Employers further expect employees to have good interpersonal skills and be able to use technology and information systems. Educators and related professionals are recognizing these on the job demands, and through such initiatives as transition planning are trying to prepare young people with the competencies needed in the workplace. While fewer options are available once an individual leaves a formal school setting, some businesses and industries do have programs and there are programs outside the workplace as well sponsored by libraries, government departments and voluntary literacy groups. Traditionally, the goal of these programs has been to develop basic skills, but today the focus is shifting to more advanced reading, writing, mathematical, and technological skills and strategies.

In addition to the development of these skills, studies have shown that success is related to self-determination, which is defined as the ability to take control and reframe the learning disability into a more positive experience. This, of course, involves the ability and willingness to work hard, persevere and set realistic goals. Knowledge and understanding of the nature of the disability is needed, though, to achieve these goals. Other factors that contribute to success include an individual's ability to access and use support systems, such as a therapist, tutor, mentor or the members of one's own family. Being proactive and using available support systems and interventions help one learn new and better ways to compensate for the disability. Clearly, both internal factors and these external supports are needed to equip adults and help them succeed.

  Joan Shapiro, Ed.D. and Rebecca Rich, Ed.D.

About the Authors

Joan Shapiro holds a doctorate and a master's degree in special education as well as a masters degree in curriculum and reading from Teachers College, Columbia University. Previously Associate Professor of Education at Marymount Manhattan College, she co-developed and directed the Ruth Smadbeck Communication and Learning Center for children and adolescents and the program for college students with learning disabilities. Now in private practice, she lives in Manhattan.

Rebecca Rich holds a doctorate in special education as well as a master's degree in both reading and special education from Teacher's College, Columbia University. She developed and for ten years directed a support program for college students with learning disabilities. Currently, Professor Rich is full time faculty and Director of Literacy Education Programs, at the Westchester Graduate Campus of Long Island University.